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'The Walking Dead' season 8 midseason return recap: Carl's farewell

Posted Sunday, February 25, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

"I'm going to make it real, Carl, I promise. I'm going to make it real." - Rick's final words to Carl

How Carl got bit a couple of episodes ago was decidedly underwhelming and almost insulting. But the writers of "The Walking Dead" compensated in the mid-season return by giving him the longest goodbye of any character on the show to date.

He's an original character and Rick's son so that makes sense though he also suddenly becomes the wisest man in the room. And despite the calculated histrionics during much of this episode, it was engrossing and far cleaner than many we've seen so far this season.

RELATED: Chandler Riggs calls his surprise departure "bittersweet"

With death before him, he espouses peace and hope. "You can't kill all of them. There's gotta be something after." He adds: "It's not supposed to be like this. I know it can be better."

He foresees his dad becoming Farmer Rick again as he was in the prison: "You can still be that again."

He says goodbye to Judith with pearls of advice: "You be good okay? Michonne, for dad. You got to honor, listen when they tell you stuff. You don't have to always. Sometimes kids have to show their parents the way."

He gives Judith Rick's hat: "It made me feel as strong as him. It helped me. Maybe it'll help you too."

He becomes a therapist, telling Michonne not to hold on to her grief, to remember the good times: "I don't want you to be sad after this. Or angry. You're going to have to be strong. For my dad, Judith, for yourself."

He frees himself of guilt, telling them the story of how he shot the Woodbury kid at the prison while he was putting down his gun.

He tells of a dream where Alexandria is rebuilt and everyone is "living, helping everybody else live."  We see his vision come to life in a gauzy white haze: Jerry is happily building a wall. Eugene hands an older Judith an apple. Judith greets a super nice Negan. And Rick sports a ridiculous old-man beard.

And he gets to control his own destiny in a sense, taking a gun and shooting himself in the head. In a church, of all places.

Oddly, there was absolutely nothing heroic about the walker biting Carl in the first place. He was in a situation he didn't have to be in. And given how often he's faced them over the past eight seasons, how he dealt with this single walker was oddly weak. With a little more aggression and less fear, he could have easily dispensed with this walker who had such sharp teeth, they ripped right through his threadbare T-shirt into his side.

To the tune of Bright Eyes' 2005 song "At the Bottom of Everything," we see Carl  realize he's going to die and plan his exit. He knows he has some time before he perishes. So he becomes super productive. He writes some going away notes to important people. He plays with Judith one last time. He helps hide Siddiq in an underground drainage pipe, providing him bedding and food. He plants a tree. He enjoys the present moment, taking in the sun. He is handling his pending death with impressive aplomb.

By the time Negan has set Alexandria aflame and Carl has shepherded everyone down into the tunnels, zombie fever begins hitting him.

We do learn a bit more about why Carl was so intent on recruiting Siddiq. He was a medical resident when the apocalypse hit, making him very useful. Siddiq promises to honor Carl's memory by being the best person he can be.

We also learn of the plan: for the remaining members of Rick's crew to hunker down at the Hilltop for a last stand. Dwight is skeptical: "All of you in one place together?"

Daryl gets to say the Arnold Schwarzenegger line: "All of us together, we'll be their worst damn nightmare."


Meanwhile, we simultaneously follow Morgan's path back to the Kingdom to take down Gavin's crew.

The Saviors had figured out a way to escape by blasting enough walkers to create a path for themselves out. Morgan, who is in sniper mode, sees this happening and just barely escapes himself. He goes back to Ezekiel's Kingdom and runs into Carol.

Carol has the surviving Kingdom folks stay at her cottage while they try to clear out the Saviors. Henry, the young boy who insists on fighting, sneaks back to the Kingdom because he wants to help - against Carol's advice.

Carol and Morgan quietly take down several of the Saviors as they try to save Ezekiel.

Savior leader Gavin, who liked Ezekiel, plans to take the King back to Negan. He likes Ezekiel, wishes he had just stuck with the plan. Ezekiel, who has now shaken off the shock of losing a good portion of his people in the earlier Savior ambush, is back in leader mode, saying that Gavin can always shift from darkness if he wants to.

Gavin - who is actually one of the nicer Savior leaders - is understandably nervous as he readies to leave.

"Is it going to go bad, Ezekiel?" Gavin says. "Is this going to turn into something else?"

"You are the author of this night Gavin," Ezekiel replies. "Its clothes shall be fashioned by your star."

That isn't true. Gavin quickly figures out he has lost several of his mean and runs to the auditorium. There, Morgan and Carol turn the night into a rout, killing all of Gavin's men. "Beast Mode" Morgan, fighting off a Savior who had a bullet wound, sticks his hand inside said wound and pulls out the dude's intestines.

Gavin, shot in the leg, is the lone Savior survivor at the Kingdom.

He tries to convince Morgan that killing him won't make him feel any better. Carol and Ezekiel are actually on Gavin's side, telling Morgan to just lay down his staff. Morgan starts to cry. He's not really sure what to do.

Then Benjamin's brother Henry kills Gavin through the neck. We aren't sure how Morgan feels about this per se.

Ezekiel hugs Henry. "All will be resolved," he tells Henry.

We can only hope.


On "Talking Dead"

Chris Hardwick is effusive about Chandler Riggs, who he first talked to in 2012 on the prison set from season three when Chandler was 12. "I'm so proud of you man!" he said, noting that Chandler even came to Chris' wedding. "I'm sad to lose you on the show but am thrilled to see the amazing things you will do."

Chandler likes to use the word "like." He said Danai Gurira (Michonne) was the most emotional during the final day of shooting.

He gets the longest "In Memoriam" segment in "Talking Dead" history. "You went from a a man.. to a hero. RIP Carl Grimes."

Comments from other cast members:

Andrew Lincoln (Rick): "Chandler Riggs is my American son. He's an incredibly sweet young man... He's a super fun actor. He's taught me about the South and his kind of humor, his manner and his Southern charm. He's a really special part of my life."

Lauren Cohan (Maggie) calls him a "sound, caring person who you can get honest advice from. He's a beautiful, compassionate, spiritual person."

Norman Reedus (Daryl): "He started off almost like an old soul. He knew what he was doing. He knew what it all meant from the beginning."

Katelyn Nacon (Enid): "He was always really kind and had a good head on his shoulders."

Melissa McBride (Carol): She recalls the two of them during season two taking photo portraits of each other and the one he took of her is one of his favorites.

Josh McDermitt (Eugene): "We're all jealous. You have your whole life ahead of you and put in more time in a television series than we all have. We love you and please return my texts."

My favorite moment was Carl eating pudding. Apparently, it was for "Talking Dead" fans, too. It received 66 percent of the vote over killing Shane, losing an eye and his dying wish.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.